#16 Blue balls
Ringing the doorbell feels a little weird since Khiêm handed me the key to his place last night, but I’ve only ever been here with him by my side, so walking in on my own would feel weird. It takes a long time for him to answer the door, and when he finally does, it’s with his headset on and his controller in his hands. He obviously hasn’t shaved today, and his hair is sticking up in weird angles.
“You have a key,” he says when he sees me, turning his back on me immediately to rush back to his game.
I shake my head and haul in my suitcase on my own. Mom wasn’t too happy to see me go, and neither was Dad. I waited until tonight to tell them. They don’t get why I’m moving out when I don’t even have a job, but at least they don’t object to Khiêm being my roommate. Him and I run in different circles, which is why I hadn’t seen much of him until recently even though he is one of Marcus’ best friends. Mom and Dad have both met him before, though, and they like him just fine. If it had been anyone else, I think they’d have tried to stop me from leaving. I don’t have the best track record with men, after all.
Walked into the living room is surreal. I’ve been here almost every day the past week to get the spare bedroom ready to become my room, but those times, Khiêm had all his attention on me, helping me put together the furniture I bought, or making lunch for me or something. Now, he’s got three TV screens glowing brightly into the dimly lit room, his headset on, and he’s talking non-stop, laughing at something, keeping an eye on chat messages that come in on the right screen while the middle screen shows the game he’s playing, and there is a camera recording his every move, which is displayed on the left screen. I had no idea this is what work looks like for him. It’s a little intimidating.
Since I’m behind the couch and the camera mounted on the living room wall is pointed straight at Khiêm, I can see myself on the right screen, looking a little lost.
“Wave to my viewers, Nia,” Khiêm says, grinning over his shoulder when he’s got a moment to take his eyes off the screen. “Guys, this is my new roommate.”
The chat fills up with emoticons and people asking him if we’re a couple.
“She should be so lucky,” he says, grinning as he continues playing. “Nah, she’s more like a sister to me. Or a cousin or something. Nia is Marcus’ sister.”
“Your viewers know Marcus?” I ask, surprised by that.
“The most faithful ones do,” he replies, grunting when he starts shooting at another player on the screen. “Okay, fuck, I really need to play this game more often. Don’t judge me too harshly, guys, it’s been three months and I’m only playing this stupid game because you paid me to do so.”
“They pay you to play a specific game?” I really don’t get how any of this works.
“I’ll happily explain my work life to you, lovely, but not right now. I need to try and salvage my reputation and kill some assholes.” Khiêm focuses on the game, and I watch him for another ten minutes, in awe over how he manages to game, talk, and read the chat all at the same time, never missing a beat. His laugh is bright and booming, and his eyes are alight with joy. He really should wear something else though, since his shirt has a ketchup stain on it and his sweats are ratty.
“I’m gonna settle in,” I say, not getting a response. Grabbing my suitcase, I walk into my room. The walls are now light gray, the curtains have been washed and ironed so they look brand-new, and there is a queen-sized bed underneath the window, pushed against the wall. It’s a little big for the room, but I prefer a big bed over a single one, and my room back home was too small for a bed like this, so I splurged. The wardrobe with sliding doors and my nightstand are next to the bed, and that’s all there is, with barely enough room to walk.
I love it. It feels like me, even though I haven’t had a chance to decorate yet. Besides, I’m not sure how long I will be living here for. Could be a few weeks, or a couple of months, or even a year. Depends on how comfortable me and Khiêm end up feeling with this arrangement, I guess, and when I will find a job. I’ve been contemplating sending in applications to any job that I don’t need actual experience or education for, but I didn’t, because Khiêm made it clear he doesn’t want me to settle. Which means I need to find something I love. That scares me a little, but I’m determined to do it.
I unpack the clothes I brought into the wardrobe. I’ll need to make a few more trips the next couple of days, but for now I have enough to be set for a week or so. I stack my favorite horror novels on the nightstand, put a picture of my family on there as well and plug my phone into the charger.
There. Now it’s home.
I’m not sure if I can just wander around the apartment and get something to drink in the open kitchen and stuff, because Khiêm is streaming right now. He told me a little about his hours the past week, and he told me that he usually streams in his studio – the spare bedroom he set us as one, I mean – but sometimes he likes to sit on the couch and stream there, which he does at least once a week. He asked me if I was okay with that, since it would mean people can see me walk in out of the frame when I’m home. I am, but this is only the first day, and I don’t want to disturb him.
I decide to just chill in my room for now, so I change into sweats and a baggy T-shirt, pulling my curls into a bun in the nape of my neck before sliding into bed, lying on my stomach to read the novel I started last night. While I loved the romance series Khiêm narrated, it’s not my favorite genre. I just liked his voice and the storyline was okay, but I love horror more than I love romance. Right now I’m in the middle of a scene where the girl realizes for the first time the voice she’s hearing isn’t in her head. She’s not going crazy. She’s seeing ghosts. Crazy, murderous ghosts of serial killers who burned to death in her dump of a house.
I dive in, shivering at a particularly gruesome scene. Right when she opens the door to find a cut-off hand waiting for her, there is knock on my bedroom door.
I yelp, and roll over onto my back, looking at the door with wide eyes.
“You okay?” Khiêm calls out. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah!” I yell back, my heart racing.
He pokes his head around the door, smiling at me. “You don’t need to hide in your room when I’m streaming. I’m done now, you can come out if you want. Sorry for not being more welcoming on your first night here.” He takes in my flustered state. “Did I scare you?”
“A little,” I admit, feeling foolish. “I was reading a horror novel, so I might be a little on edge.”
“Horror?” he asks, sounding surprised. “No more smutty romance novels, huh?”
“Horror and paranormal shit are my jam,” I explain, holding up the book I’m reading. “Goes for movies too. I hate romcoms.”
“I know I’ve said it before, but you and Marcus… so different,” Khiêm says, shaking his head. “The dude is a sappy fucker if there ever was one. Wanna hang with me for a bit? Have a beer?”
“Sure.” I get out of bed, checking the time. It’s almost midnight. Wow, no wonder I’m on the last chapter of my book. When I arrived, it was just after dinner. Khiêm has been streaming for hours, while I read in bed. Strange first night at my new place, but I kind of like that he’s not making a big fuss over me. He acts like I’ve lived here for ages and we’re old friends, even though we’re not.
For a second, I wonder if I should get dressed, but when I take in his dirty outfit, I decide against it. My sweats and shirt are cleaner than his, and it’s not like anything is on show. I don’t have a bra on, but the shirt has a high neckline and is pretty baggy, so I should be good. Honestly, with my tiny tits, I don’t even need a bra. I usually only were one to make it seem like I’ve got bigger breasts than I do and to not have my nipples poking through my shirts.
Khiêm hands me a beer and we settle on the couch with a large bowl of chips between us. He turns on the TV while I look around, noticing that he’s turned off the camera and covered it with a black protective case, and the microphone and headset are discarded in a corner.
“Typical day at work?” I ask, curious about the whole streamer thing. So weird that this is what he does for a living.
“Not really,” he says, grinning. “Usually I play games I’m actually good at, but my viewers started this whole thing where they want me to play games I suck at so they can make fun of me. I told them I’ll only do it if they raise a certain amount of money, and this morning I got the alert that they did, so I sort of had to play tonight. I totally spaced on the time you’d be here and then I got lost in the game and chatting to viewers and shit. Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine.” I stuff my face and drink my beer, thinking about what to ask first. “How does it work? Earning money with what you do?”
“Do you want the short version or the nerdy long-ass version?” he asks, grinning as he puts his beer bottle to his lips.
“Hit me with the nerdy long-ass one,” I decide. It’s not like I have work in the morning, so screw that it’s already midnight, right?
Khiêm opens his laptop and connects it to the TV screen so he can show me the streaming platform, explain how people can subscribe and donate, what kind of streams he does – ones where he basically just chats and reacts to other’s content, and ones where he plays games – and what else he does. He’s got a vlog called Khiêm tries new shit, where he tries out things that company’s send him. It’s basically him burning food, doing weird dances, eating sour candy and throwing up after, that sort of juvenile stuff. It’s pretty entertaining, I have to admit that. It doesn’t earn him a lot of money, it’s mostly a way to get people attached to him so they will check out the other stuff he does and start paying. He’s got two popular podcasts: Blue Balls where he talks about sex for an hour every single week, often with other streamers or vloggers, and Raging Reviews in which he talks about games he likes and shares insight into the way games were made, the soundtracks, all that kind of stuff.
And there is the website with merch he started a few months ago, which is a very messy webshop with shirts and mugs with his logo on it, his name or one of the names of his podcasts. It doesn’t surprise me sales haven’t been great. It looks shitty at best.
“We should probably get you some proper logos before I get to work on your website. Which one do you want me to get started on first?”
“Blue Balls,” he says immediately. “The first half hour of every podcast is free, but to listen to the second half, people have to pay a dollar or subscribe and pay for a month or a year. It’s my biggest source of income, aside from streaming. The logo right now is just the name in a black square, so… room for improvement.”
I grin. “Definitely. What would you like for a logo?”
“Blue balls,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t want it to be obscene, but something funny and suggestive would be good.”
“Like… two blue apples with a bright yellow banana in the middle?” I ask, already having a design in mind.
“That is genius!” Khiêm exclaims, clinking his beer bottle to mine. “Okay, that can be your job this week. Make that logo for me. Can you do that?”
“Yes,” I say, fueled by his excitement. For the first time in months, I feel useful. I can do this. I’m good at this. And this way, I can pay Khiêm back for putting a roof over my head and getting me away from my mother’s judgmental stare. “Tell me more,” I order him, nodding at the screen. “What does a normal workweek look like for you?”
We stay up until 3 am talking about his streams, podcasts, vlogs and websites, and he shows me all the audiobooks he’s narrated so far. He’s easy to talk to, and his life is very interesting. He works extremely hard, way more than eight hours a day, and more than five days a week. He lives and breathes all of this, trying to make the most of it before he’ll eventually have to find a real job as he calls it. I think what he does is very real, although it’s not a traditional job. It’s hard to earn a living with what he does, but he’s doing quite well for himself.
“I’m impressed,” I tell him, yawning even though I’d love to keep talking to him.
“Ah, sunshine, I sucked the life right out of you, didn’t I?” he teases, poking me.
I shake my head, not wanting him to think he’s boring me. “Not at all. It’s just late.”
He whistles when he sees the time. “Sorry, I have a fucked-up sleep schedule. Plus, I only need six hours of sleep each night, so I’m awake a lot.”
“I like to sleep a lot,” I reply, yawning again. “Sorry, I swear I’m not bored by you, but I need some beauty sleep.”
“Want me to tuck you in?” Khiêm asks when I get up, giving me a fat wink.
“I think I can manage,” I assure him, laughing.
“Nia?” he asks when I’m about to leave the room.
“Yeah?” I turn back to him with a frown.
“This is your home as much as it’s mine, so feel free to walk around, grab stuff from the fridge, open closets and cupboards and shit…” He gives me a sweet smile. “Your bedroom is basically nothing more than a bed and a wardrobe, so please don’t feel like you have to spend all your time in there, okay? Put stuff in the living room and kitchen if you want to.”
Seriously, how did I ever think of this guy as a creepy nerd with grabby hands? He’s nothing like my first impression. Hopefully, I’m not either, because I know I come off as a judgmental bitch. And I am, sort of. Kind, flirty, interesting Khiêm might be just what I need to become a better person myself. It sure can’t hurt.